PHILO, Calif. - The Navarro Watershed Protection Association has charged that a Napa Valley winery damaged American Indian archeological remains.
In a complaint filed with state water authorities, the non-profit group is claiming that Duckhorn Vineyards violated water laws and disturbed several cultural sites.
At issue is an area near the confluence of Rancheria, Indian and Anderson Creeks in the Anderson Valley almost 100 miles northwest of Napa. Duckhorn vineyards acquired old winery lands and sought to expand the existing property, which had been formerly owned by Obester Vineyards.
Sources at the association say Obester was aware of the culturally sensitive area and had gone out of its way to protect them. Obester tried to build a house on the area in 1988. In accordance with state law, the company had an archaeologist, Jay Flaherty who works with Archeological Services Inc. in Kelseyville, survey the site.
Flaherty says he can't recall all the specifics after 12 years, but says he is aware of sites in the area though he is not sure if they are on the newly acquired Duckhorn property. He said an archaeologist or American Indian observer should go and survey the area.
Furthermore, Flaherty points out sites of this kind are small, seldom exceeding a single acre. He says most vineyards would rather work around the sites than mitigate, since mitigation can be expensive.
"Vineyard development falls under SEQUA (State Environmental Quality Act) and they have to look for cultural and historical sites," Flaherty says.
He said he believes the cause behind the association's concern is a common one on California's north coast - increasing development.
Alex Ryan, a spokesman for Duckhorn, agrees with Flaherty's assessment.
"With all the growth of the dot.com industry in the area, there is the accompanied growth of other things such as wineries. You have people that are concerned about that," Ryan says.
He added that Duckhorn garnered necessary permits and says it wants to be respectful of Indian archaeological sites.
"It would just be plain bad business for us not to look into it."
At this point Ryan says Duckhorn is "looking into the matter," since it only recently received the information.
Hillary Adams, an association spokeswoman, says there are three sites on the property and claims people have found artifacts such as hammerheads, arrows and shell necklace beads.
Adams says she is mistrustful of Duckhorn because of several water rights violations and does not think the company would be trustworthy in cases of Indian artifacts.
Several area tribes contacted said they had just heard about it and have not had time to assess the situation.
David Severn, an association member, says he has been involved in identifying American Indian artifacts and says the area has an unusually high number of them. He also says Duckhorn has already destroyed some culturally sensitive areas.
Severn says he has found artifacts 6 feet underground.
"That's a long time, since 4 feet usually means that these artifacts are 1,000 years old., Doing the math I'd hazard a guess that these artifacts are 1,500 years old or more."
There seems to be some question whether the sites are village or burial sites. Flaherty and Leigh Jordan, who works with the Northwest Information Center at Sonoma State University, were not able to confirm either event. Even association members were not sure.
Severn says old-time whites in the area referred to it as the "Indian burial grounds," but was not sure as to the accuracy of this title.
Jordan says she is not at liberty to discuss the location of the specific sites, for their protection. She acknowledges there are three sites in the general area, but could not say if they were on the Duckhorn property.
Association sources say they have taken the case to the California Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento. But, they say, the commission is not able to do anything because its jurisdiction does not apply to private lands.
For now Severn says he will try to make local tribes aware of the situation.
"The local Indian tribes have been so kicked down in fights for survival that I'm not sure how much they're willing to fight here. But I have a few friends in the local tribes that I know are fighters. Hopefully they'll join this one."